Despite entering the 2021 season with championship aspirations, the Seahawks lost five of their first eight games and never fully recovered, finishing in last place in the NFC West with a 7-10 record.
While there were many factors behind Seattle underachieving this season, an injury to star quarterback Russell Wilson undoubtedly changed the trajectory for the defending NFC West champions. The eight-time Pro Bowler missed three games for the first time in his career with Geno Smith replacing him and later admitted he wasn't fully recovered when he returned to action in Week 10. Counting his three games sidelined and first three starts back from injury, the team lost five out of six games to fall out of the playoff picture in November.
Looking back at the season in retrospect, how did Wilson and Smith perform in 2021? And what does the future hold for both players?
2021 Stats: 3,113 yards, 25 touchdowns, 103.1 passer rating
Overall Season Grade: B (83.0)
What Went Right: Finding immediate success in first-year offensive coordinator Shane Waldron's offense, Wilson completed 72 percent of his passes, threw 10 touchdown passes, and posted a league-best 125.3 passer rating in Seattle's first five games before suffering a ruptured tendon in his right middle finger in Week 5. After struggling mightily in his return from the injury, he flourished towards the tail end of the season, tying for fifth among NFL quarterbacks with 13 passing touchdowns and a 103.7 passer rating in the final six weeks. Rounding into form health-wise, Wilson played at his best in the final two games against the Lions and Cardinals, tossing seven touchdowns and averaging 8.62 yards per attempt in back-to-back victories to close out the season. He also reaffirmed he could still do damage with his legs, running through All-Pro safety Budda Baker for a touchdown in the season finale.
What Went Wrong: Wilson had never missed a game in his NFL career in his first nine seasons, but that iron man streak came to an abrupt end in October when his hand connected with Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald's arm following through on a throw. He underwent surgery for mallet finger the next day and landed on injured reserve, missing each of the next three games. After returning following Seattle's bye week, No. 3 looked like a shell of himself in three straight losses to Green Bay, Arizona, and Washington, completing just 55 percent of his passes and throwing only two touchdown passes while posting a dismal 73.2 passer rating. Even considering his improved play late in the year, Wilson finished 28th in the NFL in completion rate (51%) and 15th in passer rating (91.1) on third down.
Closing Thoughts: Due to the lingering effects of his injury, Wilson wasn't able to pull the rabbit out of the hat this time and help the Seahawks overcome a 2-5 start to return to the playoffs. But even though he endured one of the worst statistical seasons of his career and had a down year by his lofty standards, he still eclipsed 3,000 passing yards, threw only six interceptions, and finished fifth in the NFL with a 103.1 passer rating. Most quarterbacks in the league would love to post such numbers and assuming he doesn't force his way out of town, his play late in the season should provide optimism he will return to full form for Seattle in 2022.
2021 Stats: 702 yards, 5 touchdowns, 103.0 passer rating
Overall Season Grade: B- (80.5)
What Went Right: Playing his first meaningful snaps in three seasons with the Seahawks, Smith stepped in for an injured Wilson and immediately led a 98-yard touchdown drive, connecting with DK Metcalf in the end zone. While a late interception sealed Seattle's fate that night, the former second-round pick showed he could guide the offense while Wilson recovered from his injury. Over the next three games, he threw four touchdowns, completed 72 percent of his passes, and didn't throw an interception while posting a 108.4 passer rating, seventh-best in the NFL during that span. He displayed a great rapport with Metcalf as well, connecting with the star receiver on an 84-yard touchdown against New Orleans.
What Went Wrong: While Smith did an adequate job as a caretaker for Seattle's offense, the team managed to score only 30 total points in close losses to Pittsburgh and New Orleans in prime time. In both of those defeats, the veteran signal caller made critical errors late, coughing up a fumble in overtime against the Steelers and taking a pair of inexcusable sacks against the Saints down the stretch. While he completed 68 percent of his passes on third down, the backup wasn't much better than Wilson converting in those situations, moving the chains just six times on 19 pass attempts and taking six sacks.
Closing Thoughts: Smith didn't necessarily light it up in four games spelling Wilson, but he played far better than most backups in the NFL would have under such circumstances. With a few more bounces going Seattle's way, he could have easily been 3-0 as a starter and he kept the team in every game he played in. A DUI arrest after the season finale isn't a good look at all, but it would be surprising if he doesn't return for a fourth season behind Wilson.
Seahawks 2021 Positional Report Cards
Receiver - Coming 1/20/22
Tight End - Coming 1/22/22
Offensive Tackle - Coming 1/24/22
Guard/Center - Coming 1/27/22
Linebacker - Coming 1/19/22
Cornerback - Coming 1/23/22
Safety - Coming 1/26/22
Specialists - Coming 1/28/22